Monday, December 7, 2009

Delaware River dredging plot line murkier still

[Updated Dec 9 2009 to add related news stories]

Today, the latest and most astounding plot twist of all in the now multi-seasoned, New Jersey vs. Pennsylvania Delaware Dredging mini series.

But first, a quick recap.

You'll remember that, in the opening episode of Season 1, the media informed us that evil corporate and labor forces, joined by powerful Pennsylvania politicians, were out to destroy the fragile, interlinking ecosystems of the Delaware River and Delaware Bay by lowering the river by five feet so that modern supertankers could call on the Port of Philadelphia.

In subsequent episodes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emerges as the mercenary organization entrusted with the job of cooking the enviro-studies to justify the mission and seeing that the gook scraped from the bottom all got dumped (hell, why not) in New Jersey.

By the end of the first season, a motley mob of South Jersey residents, fired up by the usual cast of enviro-doomsayers are howling. Spare us, they cry.

Season Two: South Jersey congressional leaders make angry noises and threaten to threaten and threaten and threaten again again until Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell withdraws his support for the project--or the newspapers stop running their press releases. Rendell smiles.

Then the enviros paint verbal pictures of sludge piles ruining New Jersey's pristine river coast line. Rendell smiles.

Then the Army Corps starts issuing implementation schedules. South Jersey residents despair. We've been screwed again, they wail, and this time not by North Jersey.

Suddenly, on a white steed with a tiny G-S brand partially obscured by the saddle, a hero gallops into town. It's New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. He draws a line in water with his lancet.

Not on my watch, Fast Eddie, he growls. The scene (and season) fade to black, as we imagine Rendell skulking away in the shadows of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Time passes. Summer reruns and new show trials intervene. Then our soap returns, promising all new episodes.

Season Three. Rendell has dispatched envoys to explore peace talks. Secret negotiations take place. Details, are sketchy. Then a writers strike. Few new episodes follow. Reporters try to refresh the story but only tell us that something's going on...but the details are sketchy.

Finally, in a triumphant season-closer, Corzine and Rendell emerge, arm in arm. It was all a misunderstanding, they say through clenched smiles. New Jersey won't try to stop the project and Pennsylvania will truck all the muck to abandoned coal mine shafts which are already pretty screwed up anyway.

Ahem, the enviros say. What about the looming environmental catastrophe?

Ah, we'll get back to you on that, say the reunited Democratic brothers. But take heart (wink, wink). This is Rendell-Corzine, not Bush-Cheney.

So that's it, right? Time to close down the series or maybe morph it into a reality show? America's Dirtiest River Jobs, perhaps? Not hardly.

Current Season. In the opening episode, the state of Delaware was going to court to block the project. Governor Corzine, then in the midst of his re-election campaign and getting hammered daily by a major enviro mouthpiece, tells his Attorney General: For god's sake, join the suit. I'm getting killed here.

And then today, the absolute topper. The Philadelphia Inquirer discloses the latest and most dramatic Delaware dredging plot twist--one guaranteed to extend the series into another season.

It turns out, the gunk isn't headed down a mine shaft after all. It's apparently getting dumped in the Garden State.

Incredible? Amazing? Maybe, but we've had a sneaky suspicion about this one all along.

What's the explanation? Well, the details continue to be, ah, sketchy. But Inquirer writer Jan Hefler does a good job today of exposing some of the behind-the-scenes machinations.

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